Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Woodchuck Wednesday

A tale of three neighbors and a woodchuck (Marmota monax, aka Woody) who lumbered over a fence from one yard to another.

In the relatively quiet neighborhood of Beaver Hills, nestled between downtown and Westville in New Haven and known for its fine single-family homes, the woodchuck population is on the rise. Woodchucks (also commonly known as groundhogs as in Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator of Spring’s return) have been dining in our friends’ gardens for years and are a common sight in Beaver Ponds Park, a few short blocks from their home. Over time our friends have modified their garden to suit Woody’s tastes — planting their tomatoes in hanging pots and in the ground growing only things in which Woody has no interest — primarily raspberries, herbs, and garlic. You see, one year Woody took up residence under their backyard shed, and despite all their attempts to make him feel unwelcome, he decided to call the shed his home.

This Spring Woody had a family, and pickings in this yard were too slim to support them all. Woody climbed some fences, did some exploring, and discovered two adjacent yards full of things he loved — tender veggies and sunflowers. One fine day he left mama and the babies behind to visit the garden next door. The neighbor had been away for two weeks. When he returned and saw the damage Woody had wrought, he became enraged. He owns a shotgun. He was ready and waiting for Woody to lumber over to his side. BAM — a shot heard ’round the ’hood! Woody was no more.

A second neighbor, also a victim of Woody’s passion for local produce, came running over to investigate. He happily took Woody home, skinned him, and cooked him for dinner.

Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006Woodchuck is considered a delicacy, at least by some. In my well-worn edition of the Joy of Cooking (1973 edition) there is a section on “Game” with recipes I have read but never tried, including instructions for cooking woodchuck. On page 454, Irma Rombauer cautions the reader to “remove 7 to 9 small sacs or kernels in the small of the back and under the forearm.” She continues to explain that after “soaking overnight in salt water you can then cook by any recipe for rabbit or chicken.” A recent post “Cook thine enemy” at the Winona (Minnesota) 360 site explains that these sacs are scent glands. The author, Peggy, includes a recipe for and photo of the woodchuck fricasse√© she prepared from the woodchuck her husband brought home (as well as photos of the naked and dressed woodchuck meat).

But before you hatch any plans for getting your own fresh “chuck,” you better check the firearms laws in your place of residence. Woody’s shooter did not need a license for his shotgun. But to hunt in Connecticut, a permit is required. Even with a permit, there is a hunting season. More importantly in this instance, there is a 500 foot rule — “It is prohibited to hunt with, shoot, or carry a loaded firearm within 500 feet of any building occupied by people or domestic animals.” The distances are far smaller in this neighborhood.

Havahart 1079 32-by-10-by-12-Inch Professional-Style One-Door Cage Trap for RaccoonsUnless you want to face criminal charges, I suggest using legal methods to rid yourself of these pests. I have read about how difficult they are to drive away, and I know they are clever enough to avoid Havahart traps (Woody’s eater was unsuccessful there). Since woodchucks have not yet made their way to East Rock/downtown where I live, I have absoultely zero experience in dealing with this problem, but my research has turned up one product that sounds promising. If you don’t yet have resident woodchucks, or if you can manage to drive them from your yard for a short while, perhaps Shake-Away groundhog repellent is the answer. This product is a powder made of fox urine that when sprinkled around the perimeter of your property is purported to have the same effect as if a fox had “claimed” the area as his own, thus creating a “wall of fear” which will keep the groundhog away. This sounds ideal as long as humans can’t smell it, as long it doesn’t require re-application after every rain, and, of course, as long as groundhogs are absent when the product is applied. Otherwise they will be afraid to leave! Good luck to all you gardeners in Beaver Hills is all I can say.

Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated SprinklerMy thoughts on the subject? I sympathize, but NIMBY. I’ve bookmarked the Contech Scarecrow Sprinkler, which “scares away all invading outdoor critters with a blast of water and sound” just in case. It covers approximately 1200 square feet. I’m sure my human neighbors will love that.

And, for those of you pining for woodchuck meat, perhaps you should contact Peggy in Minnesota. She seems to have plenty.


  1. Fascinating- we can think of animals as pets or as pests or as dinner! Great post!

  2. Thanks for reading. I love your blog, too, and have just subscribed. Look for a new post shortly.

  3. Fun Woodchucks! don't want to eat one though.....